An evening in Portugal

[We are in Oliveira de Azemeis today as we wait out rain and get our cart fixed: it broke an axle. I have often told of things in broad generalizations. Today I want to give you a verbal snapshot of the evening two nights along our walk through Portugal.]

The day has been short, only 21 kilometers after getting lost a few times. We walk down a steep road dug out of the mountain side into the edge of Albergaria a Velha. High rock and dirt walls flank both sides as the road heads strait into the village below. Once down we follow a very old road between what looks like equally old houses. They touch forming a canyon-like path a little smaller than the one we came through off the mountain. The faint smell of sewer irritates our noses as the cobble stones make themselves felt through our shoe soles.
Entering a traffic circle, we come on a man parking on the sidewalk. “Do you know where the hotel is?” Petra asks.
“It’s up this hill. Follow the road strait. Cross the railroad tracks. Go some more and it is on the left.” Then he repeats the directions twice again as the Portuguese often do to make sure you understand.
We start walking. It’s getting dark. The rain that held off all day begins to drizzle. We get out our umbrellas and keep walking. The rain gets heavier. We take refuge in a bus stop. A train passes.
When we begin walking again, a car passes. It’s the guy from the circle. We walk several blocks more looking for the Casa de Alameda based on the picture in the guidebook. Suddenly, it’s the circle guy again. He speaks from behind parked cars from a doorway on a tiny sidewalk. “You are here.” Wet and in the dark, the hotel doesn’t look like it’s picture. We might have walked by.
He unlocks the second half of the tall two-door entrance and opens it so we can bring our cart in. We enter an old room. A bar sits to our right. The ceilings disappear into the dark above. Sounds echo. Our helper tells the bartender we want a room and then makes his departure.
The steps squeak as the bartender climbs and disappears into a dark corner. Soon he returns followed by another who proves to be the hotel owner. We repeat that we are looking for a room with two beds and heat. “Yes, come with me.” He speaks English, a welcome change.
We go out and down the street a couple doors. Inside, he removes a barrier that keeps his dog out of the hotel. He takes us up a stairway. I can barely see as I make my way up the unevenly carpeted stairs. We turn and walk down a corridor. The light he turns on is almost no help for seeing my way. We enter a set of doors, cross a landing, and go through more doors. Two halls later, he opens a door and turns on a light.
It’s your basic old hotel room: high walls, small twin beds, a wardrobe, shuttered windows, a harsh overhead light, another no-less-harsh light on a single night stand between the beds, one chair, and a cold feel. In fact there is not the hint of heat on a night when the temperature is hanging just a few degrees above freezing. It feels as though there has been no heat in the room for a week or even weeks. Like so many Portuguese buildings this one feels colder than the weather outside.
“Do you have an electric heater?”
“We have heat in the room.” He points to a small radiator sitting under the windowsill where it would give more heat to the window than to the room. Then he points out another radiator in the bathroom. Both are small.
“But there is no heat coming out.” Petra points out.
“I will turn it on now when I go down.”
We retrace our steps through the maze of halls. Once down we agree to put our cart in the entrance hallway. We go back to the bar and bring the cart through the same big doors out into the now steady rain, push it down the street, tuck it into a corner, take out our bags, and tackle the maze back to the room.
The owner has the radiators running hot and assures us that it will be soon warm and cozy. As he leaves we know it will never be so. The pillows feel like they are full of ice cubes and the blankets are frost on the block of ice that is the mattress. This says nothing about the cold walls and floors and bathroom tile. Those little heaters will not make this room cozy in the span of the 12 hours that we are here. But this is the only place in town. This is our stop for tonight.
We open the beds and set them up with our sleeping bags and the extra blankets we find, wash up (the water is at least warm), and breath a bit in preparation for a cold night.
Resigned to our fate, we return to the bar and restaurant. The dining room is a huge room lined with large wine barrels. Several people are setting at long tables. A large portable heater, the only source of heat in the room, stands in the center of the room. An empty table sits next to the stove. Petra leads us there and pulls the table closer to the heater.
The waiter takes our order, goes over to one of the wine casks, draws a pitcher of dark red wine, and returns it to our table. I like it. I never have been able to describe wine tastes and suspect that even if I could many would not understand me anyway. That said, I enjoy the heavy, slightly sweet flavor with a hint of some fruit. Later the waiter opens a bottle of red wine from a back shelf for another customer. Petra asks, “What is the difference with this wine?”
“It is the less cheap wine. This one costs 3.50 Euro ($5.10). The one in the barrel costs only 2.50 ($3.60).”
We try the “less cheap” variety. I prefer the cheap one. I like that hint of fruit.
Petra follows her legume soup with lamb and potatoes. I eat delicious grilled squid that are cooked to perfection, not the slightest rubbery consistency that one often gets with squid fried in the United States. As often is the case in the smaller towns, the portions are huge for the price.
We return to our room full and ready to take on the night. It doesn’t take long to wash, shower, and get under the covers by just after nine. I sleep well and am never cold even though the heat goes off around 11:00.
In the morning we are up and headed to a bar for breakfast by 7:30. Another night in a cold hotel is over. Will Portugal ever learn about heating buildings. Even in the big hotels, the lobby and public areas are seldom heated.

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